TAMPA — Historic preservation advocates have given up their fight to make Hillsborough Community College follow Ybor City design guidelines as the college builds its $14 million student services building.
But they say they want future buildings approved by the Barrio Latino Commission, a board that regulates construction in historic Ybor.
"The future of Ybor's really at stake here," Mark Bentley, an attorney for the Cuban Club and other Ybor property owners, told the City Council on Thursday.
HCC officials argue that they don't have to adhere to the city's historic preservation guidelines, because state rules exempt them from local building codes.
City attorney Chip Fletcher told the council he believes the guidelines are part of the city's planning and zoning regulations, which HCC does have to follow. In January, Fletcher said he would ask the attorney general for an opinion on the matter.
But last month, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio met with HCC president Gwen Stephenson. The two agreed that the school's designs would be subject to review by the staff in the city's historic preservation department, but not approval of the Barrio Latino Commission.
"We've come up with a very reasonable solution," Stephenson told the council.
Council member Linda Saul-Sena disagreed.
"They need to follow the same rules as everybody else," she said. "In an attempt to make nice with HCC, the city is backpedaling."
Council member Mary Mulhern said city officials rarely show any backbone when it comes to historic preservation.
"We talk about it all the time, and we react to things after they happen," she said.
Council Chairman Tom Scott said that as long as HCC contends it doesn't answer to the Barrio Latino Commission, the council can't do anything.
"It's going to come down to a legal challenge," he said.
By a vote of 5 to 1, the council backed Iorio's negotiations with Stephenson. Mulhern cast the dissenting vote, and Saul-Sena was not in the room when votes were taken.
After the meeting, Saul-Sena said she would look into asking the attorney general for an opinion herself.
"If we continue to make decisions that undermine the fabric of our national historic district, it becomes at risk," Saul-Sena said.
The inclusion of Ybor on the National Register of Historic Places requires that new buildings be compatible with old buildings, she said.
"It would be foolish not to protect our designation," she said.
HCC already has more than 305,000 square feet of building space on its Ybor campus, largely with contemporary designs. Long-range plans call for another 525,700 square feet. Ashley Carl, a spokeswoman for HCC, said the next new building wouldn't go up for at least 10 years.
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.